This is an interesting book that reviews the modern landscape of retail from a technical point of view. It dives deep into the implications of retailers having mountains of data about our habits as purchasers and proposes arguments for how this has ushered in an age of great product development, but also manipulating tactics.

I was surprised that the book mostly focused on the history of retail. I don’t mean what retail was like before online shopping - it goes way back. Back to before companies, before stores, to the scale of individuals trading to survive. The author spent a little too much time delving into the history lesson for my tastes, but ultimately the examples worked for the book’s thesis: Cultural norms emulate retail. Which is pretty crazy, right?

I’ve always assumed cultures define retail habits. Look at the different ways you shop at a fancy clothing franchise compared to a street-fair knick-knack shop. It seems like our culture, defining the environment for the transaction, shapes how the seller and buyer interact. The author presents a case that says since we have a real requirement for things, the act of selling and the relationships built around that act shape how we behave not only during the transaction, but also in our culture.

By initiating a transaction, you and the store are establishing the same agreement that you have with any entity: One of protection and privilege. Both sides are vying to benefit themselves, but not at the cost of never transacting again. When both protection and privilege are achieved, you create loyalty between the parties.

The book then continues to prove this stance with example after example of loyalty to brands. Over time, these brand loyalties from the purchaser’s perspective have bounced back and forth between retailers and products. For example, I’m much more likely to buy anything from Whole Foods over WalMart, but I am also more likely to get Bear Republic’s Racer 5 than a beer I’ve never heard of. Whole Foods and Bear Republic have my loyalty at both a retailer and product level respectively.

The book explores the history of this relationship and the techniques retailers have used to determine what items will be popular, while product developers have battled over which retailer will help their product hit the best audience. This has shaped where we shop, how we pick items, what we bring with us to get the things we need, and what we define as “needed” items vs luxury.

Today, there is a new category in the techniques retailers and product brands are using to achieve their goals: the mobile, connected device.

Our phones are geysers of information that can provide brands with true personas. Although that’s an obvious fact, the book dives into how this info-stream can be abused or used to exploit privacy, breaking the protection and privilege our culture spent so long developing.

The gist is: This tech is powerful and can be easily abused. Be smart.